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Torah Commentary
B'reishit (October 28, 2016)

Prince H. Davis, Administrative Assistant

“When God began to create
heaven and earth...” — Genesis 1:1

I had an interesting conversation with a colleague the other day about organically grown vegetables and non-GMO products. It reminded me of a book I read long ago, titled The Unsettling of America by Wendell Berry. In his book, Berry discusses how large food-producing corporations have begun to monopolize the industry using genetically modified produce, putting out of business many of the small farms that grow their produce naturally. Many people are alarmed by this, and the market for naturally grown foods has increased in many places. I wanted to see what the Torah had to say.

We read in this week’s Torah portion, B’reishit, God’s command that the earth give forth “fruit trees producing fruit.” (Genesis 1:11) In the next verse, however, the earth created only “trees producing fruit.” (Genesis 1:12) The Midrash explains that God’s intention was that the trees would be actual fruit trees — that is, the bark would taste just like the fruit it bears. It seems strange to us that eating the bark of a fruit tree would be just as appetizing as the fruit itself. Why should the trees taste like their own fruit?

And, in Leviticus 19:19, we read about the prohibition of grafting:
“...you shall not sow your field with two kinds of seed...”

In his book Gold From the Land of Israel, Rabbi Chanan Morrison offers insight based on the writing of Rabbi Abraham Isacc Kook about the Genesis text:

Rabbi Kook explained that the Midrash is describing a fundamental flaw of nature. One of the basic failings of our limited world is that we are unable to appreciate the means — the path we take towards a particular goal — as much as we value the goal itself. We set for ourselves many goals, both short-term and long-term; and we are usually excited, even inspired, by the vision of accomplishing our final objectives. But how much exhilaration do we feel in our laborious, day-to-day efforts to attain these goals? A number of factors — the world’s material character, life’s transient nature, and the weariness of spirituality when confined to a physical framework — contribute to the current state of affairs, so that we can only sense true fulfillment after attaining the ultimate goal. God’s intention, however, was that the soul would be able to feel some of the inspiration experienced when contemplating a sublime goal also during the process of achieving that end. This is the inner meaning of the Midrash: the means (the fruit tree) should also contain some of the taste, some of the sense of satisfaction and accomplishment that we feel in the final goal (the fruit).

I wonder how we can synchronize these ideas into our daily lives to make our world more livable and safe. I’m an environmentalist. My vision is a simple one: We truly do not need to change much in the world itself, only within ourselves. No genetic modifications, chemicals or other synthetics are needed. We are the “fruit tree” about which Rabbi Kook is talking. The fruit we produce should be natural and wholesome. Love and compassion are good products.

Don’t you think?

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